The Common Eider and Homo Sapiens: Fourteen Centuries Together


Alexandra Goryashko





Author’s preface




Part 1. How the eider lives without Man


Chapter 1.1 How the eider lives without Man

An epitome of austere beauty

Kinds of eiders

What’s uncommon about the Common eider

Fliers and divers

What, where and how the eiders eat

Addresses and diasporas

Marriage registration. The preparation of dowry

Building the nest. Equipping the nursery

Incubation. Waiting for the offspring

Hatching. The first days of life

Broods, nurseries, and aunties

The eider’s enemies

A long time to reach maturity

The change of garments

Winter quarters



Part 2. The Common eider and its saint patron. The starting point


Chapter 2.1. The Common eider and its saint patron. The starting point

“He indicated for their nesting Farne Island”

Search for the original sour

Biography and Hagiography

What Reginald wrote

St. Cuthbert’s garments

Conception and formation of a legend

A minute of reality

Eider “in law”

The eider as the bird of St. Bartholomew; another historic possibility



Part 3. How the eider lives with Man


Chapter 3.1. When humans became acquainted with the Eider

The eiders in archeological findings

Vikings, sagas, and the eiders

The eider’s first appearance in written sources

Origins of the name “eider”



Chapter 3.2. From Cuthbert’s duck to Somateria mollissima.

Evolution of eider description in scientific literature

“The duck of softest feathers” (1655)

Wormius’ duck and Cuthbert’s duck (1676)

“The Anas with the unguis of the beak obtuse” (1752)

“A wild duck called Edder” (1752-1753)

«Mollissima» (1758)

“The Natural History of the Eider” (1763)

 Gagka and Gagkun” (1773)

“Something about the Eider’s internal structure” (1778)

Eider in the “British” and “Arctic” zoologies (1776 and 1785)

“Eider Duck” (1832)

“A true sea dweller” (1861)

“Female is Gavka, and male is Gavkun” (1885)

Eider in the First Russian Classic (1893-1902)

Life stories of the eider (1925)

“A creature of coasts pressed by ice” (1926)



Chapter 3.3. Feathers of all birds are equal, but some are more equal than others. How does eider down keep one warm?

To see does not mean to understand

The structure of a bird feather

In search of structure

A net full of air

Mystery almost solved

The devil is in the detail

Unresolved mysteries of eider down



Chapter 3.4. The eider is more than just valuable down

Delicious, with qualifications, meat, unconditionally delicious eggs, and useless down

Food for northern journeys

Hunting the eiders: a life necessity or a tribute to the tradition?



Chapter 3.5. The beginning of symbiosis.

The first eider farms and first eider protection laws

When and how did eider farms begin?

Valuable down is clean down

First eider farms

How down was cleaned

Early eider protection laws



Chapter 3.6. Is Russia an eider country?

What bird is the source of the “Bird Down”?

How much is a “Fabulous quantity of down”?

The other side of the coin

What did the Russians do with the down?



Chapter 3.7. First eider protection attempts in the «non-eider» world

 “Separation of all the places where gagkas live”

“To turn the down into a source of public income”

“The fines have to be very high”

 “To rent the islands to responsible people”

Laws not read, recommendations not followed

 “Russia’s first attempt of rational use of polar eider”. The Trifon-Pechenga Monastery eider farm

The eiders of Vilsandi



Chapter 3.8. Eider farming attempts in the USSR

 Solovky Bio-garden: Eider farm in a concentration camp

An eider reserve or an eider farm?

The northernmost incubator house

Shelter for the eiders and protection against predators

Taming the eider

 “Making the wild eider semi-domesticated”

 Collection and cleaning of down

Eider farming on Novaya Zemlya

Agitation and propaganda

The last attempt






Chapter 3.9. Why there are no eider farms in Russia?

Parallel worlds

 “You can't eat your cake and have it too”

Own and not

Novaya Zemlya, no ones land

 Serving eiders does not tolerate haste



Chapter 3.10. What’s the secret of eider farming? Magic exposed

An ordinary miracle. Why does the eider need Man?

The relativity of profit

The Icelandic phenomenon

 “What’s good for a Russian is deadly for a German”. Can the Icelandic experience be transferred to other countries?

The failure of the Maxwell epic



Chapter 3.11. Modern eider farms and the down trade

Iceland: old traditions in the modern world

The story of Midhus

Norway: eider farms as a cultural legacy

The history of Lanan

Norway: Svalbard

The story of Louis Nielsen

Canada: the down business as an investment in eider protection

The Société Duvetnor story

Canada: Nunavik and Nunavut

Modern cleaning of down

Modern down trade



Chapter 3.12. The initial eider world

North America: food as a source of knowledge

Eider clothing

Greenland: “The stock house for the Inuit”

The deadly riches

The Chukotka Peninsula


The meeting of the worlds



Chapter 3.13. Eider in science

The birth of the USSR eider science

Eider science in the USSR, 1930-1940. The aborted flight

Eider science in the USSR. 1940s-1960s. Second birth

Eider science in the USSR. 1960s-1980s. First results and last researchers

Eider bibliographies

The eider annals

Avian archives

Eider science in the 21st century: answers and questions



Chapter 3.14. Eider as a pet

Early experiments with keeping eiders in captivity

“Cute nurslings of the Solovki Biological Garden”

“There will come a time when our eider will be the first among the poultry farm birds”

“I was a mother to them”

Shurik, Yurik, and Gavryusha

Shlepa and Vanechka



Part 4. Secular patrons


 Chapter 4.1. Secular patrons

Artur Toom, The Bird King of Vilsandi

Mitrofan Nekrasov. “An experiment in organising eider farming in captivity”

Vyacheslav Uspensky. “Even in my dreams I saw islands fully populated with the eiders”

Vera Rolnik. “Long live the eider queen!”

Nina Demme. “I’m used to working alone in the Arctic. Being alone during the field research will not stop me.”



 Part 5. Around the eider. The eider and Man, the second derivative.


Chapter 5.1. Eider in art

Pioneers of eider art

The eider in modern fine art

Eider in sculpture

Eiders in arts and crafts

Major projects

The eider in Russian fine art

The eider in literature



Chapter 5.2. Eider museums

“E-huset” or “The Eider House” on the Vega Archipelago, Norway

Eider Museum in Reykholar, Iceland

Ærfugl and Little Lånan eider museums, Norway

The Eider Museum in Stykkisholmur, Iceland


Chapter 5.3. Eider down in the lives of literary and real personages

Polar explorers and pilots

Mountain climbers

Tourists and field researchers



Chapter 5.4. Legends, errors, and misunderstandings

The force of errors

“The tale is false but has a hint! A lesson to good men”

The most long-lasting misconception


The down confusion

And finally…



Afterword by the author 


Afterword by the literary editor 


Book’s supporters

A list of abbreviations